When I started using a professional email service, I decided to use Vertical Response. Frankly, my decision was made because I got a newsletter from Michael Connelly, and he was using VR. I haven't used any other service, so I'm sharing what my experiences have been with a sample size of one.
Things to consider when choosing an email service:
1. Cost. Vertical Response has a "pay as you go" option which is perfect for someone like me, who has a relatively small number of subscribers and sends 4 newsletters a year.
2. Ease of use. It's nice to have some basic templates. It's also nice when you can modify them, and even nicer when there's someone at the other end to help you out. I found all of these options very user-friendly. I can copy and paste from Word, create links, and add images. If you have a blog or website you maintain, you've got more than the skills you need.
3. List maintenance. VR lets me create as many mailing lists as I want, and it will merge them into a "master list" since all I do is send my newsletter. However, if I want to see who signed up for my newsletter based on a promotion I did, I can look at the individual lists. Also, and for me this is a very nice feature, is that I don't have to worry about duplicates. When I add a batch of names (and there are step-by-step instructions for how to upload names), VR will kick out any duplicates.
4. Tracking. VR provides detailed statistics about how many people open your newsletter, how many unsubscribe (which is an option you MUST include), bounces, clicks, and more. I think industry standard is an open rate of about 18%, so when I get reports of a 42% open rate, I've learned to think of it as 'above the standard' rather than "why doesn't everyone read my newsletter?"
Things to consider when putting together a newsletter.
1. Frequency. I "advertise" quarterly and don't betray my readers' trust by inundating their inboxes whenever I think I have something cool to say. Can you come up with suitable content for whatever schedule you decide?
2. Content. I decided to cover specific topics in my newsletters. I begin with an introduction, usually telling my readers a little bit about what my life is like up in the mountains where I live. My other sections are:
On the Writing Front. This is where I mention current books, new releases, etc.
What's Up Next? What I'm working on now, or what I'm doing. In my last issue, I mentioned being excited about attending ThrillerFest and mentioned that I'm going to give away a box of books in conjunction with my Facebook page.
In the Works. I'd mention what I'm working on, or what I'm planning to work on.
Contests and Giveaways. Sadly, people want a reason to read your newsletter. I always have some sort of a contest or giveaway. Right now, my Booklover's Bench colleagues are joining me, so I have books from other authors to give away as well.
One thing I try not to do is overload my content with "buy my book." I think readers like seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff. Also, I provide bonus content. My newsletter subscribers get exclusives, be they a contest they can enter only from the newsletter, or a peek at a new cover or extras from books.
Back to the "Open Rate." Ways to increase the number of people who read your newsletter is to have an enticing subject line. I've learned that my earlier "Update from Terry Odell" wasn't getting me as many readers as "Update and Giveaway from Terry Odell." Getting that "this will be worth your time" wording into the subject line helps.
I know some people include photo albums, recipes, puzzles and games. I tried those, but decided to keep things shorter (and easier). I already share photos and recipes on my blog, so people can find them there.
What do you like/dislike in author newsletters?
Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.